Ideas for your personal statement: 3 tips to get you started

By Hillary Mantis

Many law schools ask for a personal statement, but few actually tell you what to write about.

Indeed, the request can be kind of vague and confusing. Where do you start? With your childhood or last year? And what do you write about? Is it really okay not to write about why you want to go to law school? Do you have to think of something that no one else has ever written about?

Here are some tips to get your started:

How personal should your personal statement be?

I think it can be pretty personal, actually. It’s a part of your application that admissions may read first, before your academic numbers. So definitely write it in the first person. Make sure the story is primarily about you and not a friend, relative or colleague. You are the protagonist, the star of this essay. Whatever it’s about, it’s a story about you. It can be about a life-long interest, or one you just discovered this year.

What are some good topics for your personal statement?

A legal internship or post-graduate job is an obvious choice. But it needs to be about your own personal experience there. Was there a client that you helped? A lawyer who was a great mentor to you? What was your own most memorable experience there?

Volunteer work, travel, study abroad or other life-changing experiences which broadened your perspective can also be good topics. Tell a specific story about who you met or what you did that most influenced you.

Many write about obstacles they’ve overcome in life, experiences growing up, their families or achievements. These are all good topics. Make sure that you are always the main focus, though.

It’s fine if you are not writing specifically about why you want to go to law school as your main topic, in my opinion, unless the law school you are applying to indicates otherwise. I also don’t think it’s necessary to come up with a topic that no one else has written about. That is way too much pressure. I think whatever is genuinely interesting to you is fine to write about. If you can’t decide between two topics, try writing a draft of each.

What are topics to avoid?

The most common problem I see is that a personal statement sounds like a paper you might write for school rather than an essay about your life. Another common problem is that personal statements contain very long paragraphs and run-on sentences. Keep paragraphs under 10 lines and break up sentences that have a lot of commas or semi-colons.

Try to stay aware of just how many other personal statements the admissions committee might be reading. What would you want to read if you were them? A long, densely written opinion paper? Or a great story about something that has impacted your life?

Also avoid any mention of something negative. That’s what addendums are for. If you want to explain a poor semester of grades, or an off-day for your LSAT, the personal statement is not where you would write about it.


Hillary Mantis works with pre-law students, law students, and lawyers. She is director of the pre-law program at Fordham University and author of career books, including “Alternative Careers for Lawyers.” You can reach her at altcareer@aol.com.


 

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